The Book of Books - The Sake ListBoy, I was in a bind! Now that I’m known as the “Sake-Guy” among my friends, It always falls to me to pick the location and the drink when we decide to go out for a little nihon-shu sipping. My College buddy Brad and I were long overdue for drinks and we wanted to catch up with eachother over some sake somewhere downtown on the west side since i’m in chelsea and he’s in the West Village.I ran through my usual list of sake hangouts and found they were heavily weighted to the east side of manhattan… Sakagura, Decibel, Satsko, Chibi’s, Sachiko’s on Clinton… what’s wrong with the west side?!, I thought. My mind scrambled to think of a place and “Sake-Guy” was coming up empty! What kind of “Sake-Guy” can’t think of a west side hangout, anyway?!

Samba Sake GlassThen it hit me – I remembered Paul Tanguay of the Amazing Of Rice and Zen blog had recently Posted about UrbanSake.com. He is Beverage Director and Sake Sommelier at Sushi-Samba. That’s it! Drinks at Sushi-Samba in the West Village. Done Deal.When Brad and I arrived, we found the restaurant hopping but lots of space in the sunken cocktail lounge. Our friendly waitress brought over the very extensive Sake list. So many wonderful things to choose from – you could just tell this list was crafted with the utmost care and know-how. awesome. You can check out the sake list on-line.
well, now the pressure was on to pick the sake. Brad said he enjoyed things a touch on the dry side, and we were in the mood to kill a whole bottle,so that’s what I had to work with. I was just wanting to pick something good. I did my best, followed my gut and went with the Sawanoi.

Sawanoi tastes GoodOur waitress said she hadn’t personally tasted it, but we forged ahead anyway. The sake was served in unique little glasses that looked kind of like miniture wine glasses. Our Waitress poured and we tasted. I’ve learned over time, and this was proven here again, that a sake really will ‘open up’ after it’s, well, opened up. The bottle was chilled and I was unsure of the taste durning our first few sips. After a few mins of gabbing and relaxing, the sake in the glass warmed just a touch closer to room temperature, and while still slightly chilled, the taste began to expand and mellow and offer that hint of dryness we were after.Brad was impressed and asked me to repeat the name of the sake we were enjoying. “Sa-wa-noi” I said. He was searching for some hook to help him remember the name for his next trip. “Sa-wa-noi… Sa-wa-noi…” then he had it! Sounds like “So-An-noy-ing!” um. well, yeah. it kinda does!
Our server brought us over a wine bucket for our sake – Fancy. It was this big, free standing, shining metal bucket… a far cry from the dinky ice bucket you usually get on your table.

Sawanoi Chillin' outMade me feel a little bit like I was at the stork club, or 21…. well, except for the people around us screaming about the world cup as events unfolded on widescreen tvs above our head.After a few more glassfuls and a few edamame, we found ourselves staring at the bottom of our Sawanoi bottle. empty! Well, in the end, this Ginjo really was delicious. It has some presence and complexity and was definitely not a watery-wallflower. After such a fun evening, and finding a good location and good sake, I really felt more like a real “Sake-Guy” than before. My Sake-Guy recommendation? when in the West Village, stop by Sushi-Samba for your sake pitstop.And don’t forget… to impress friends and family with your Sake know-how, be sure to ask for that “So-An-noy-ing!” sake.

Sake Buddy KC contacted me with a great opportunity to hang out with a brewery representitve and some other friends and have an informal sake-klatch over some great nihon-shu. He suggested we all meet at matsuri and off I went! We were lucky enough to have drinks with Mr. Sakurai from Dassai Brewery.

Dassai 50Sakuari-san was featured in my other posts from April ’06 which featured the wonderful Dassai sakes. Joining us was also Lefty from our sake meet-up group and Warren, who is KC’s co-worker.

This turned out to be an interesting and really enjoyable evening learning about the way Dassai is made and gabbing about sake in general. We started with the Dassai 50 Junmai Ginjo. This is a wonderful sake I have profiled before and one that I really enjoy.

The Dassai 50 is milled fine enough to qualify as a Dai Ginjo, but they prefer to keep it in the ginjo grade to set it apart from their heavenly Dai Ginjo 23! In the Dassai 50, you can really feel the complexity and smell the perfect hint of fruit flavors. just enough to tantalize without overwhelming.

One interesting nugget of information I took away from this was about the bottling process. Mr. Sakurai explained why Dassai uses a plastic stopper as well as a metal screw top when they bottle their sakes. First of all, the stopper prevents the sake itself from possibly touching any metal on the screw cap. This could happen if there were any minute imperfections on the lip of the glass sake bottle.

Hakkaisan HonjozoPutting in the plastic stopper also just looks cool and it synches up with American’s preconcieved, but of course faulty, notions of wine with a cork being of superior quailty to the screw cap. It’s my understanding that in general, the screw cap itself is a safer and more hygenic way to bottle wine as compaired to a standard cork anyway. …and a screw top is so much easier to open – especially if you are opening your third or fourth bottle, right?

In the end, Dassai truely has the best of both worlds in the never ending cork vs screw top debate.

For our second bottle we tried Hakkaisan Honjozo (Hakkai Brewery, Niigata, SMV +5). This sake was dryer than the Dassai and a bit rougher around the edges when compared side by side with Dassai.

This was a great – and educational – evening!

Sake Sommelier Cheez with Akita Komachi DaiginjoJoto Sake is a Sake importer run by Henry Sidel. Henry is a great guy who tirelessly promotes the gospel of sake. All his efforts and hard work have brought us here in New York the chance to sample some very unique sake, hand picked from smaller breweries we might never have heard about otherwise.

Henry was hosting a series of events last week in NYC to bring the Toji he represents directly to the U.S. to meet customers and present their sake. Last Wednesday I made it to an awesome tasting event at Sakagura dedicated to the brewers repesented by Joto. First and foremost, I need to comment on the great enthusiasm the Brewery Representatives and Toji showed for their products.

Dispite their tough schedule and tons of travel, you could tell they were excited to be here. And that excitement was infectious! They were out from behind the bar, showing pictures from their brewery, and explaining one-on-one, some of the finer point of their sakes. Also some really unique details that distinguish them from other breweries.

First, a list of the 5 Brewerys represented and their respective sakes. Then I’ll touch upon a few of my favorites.

Mr. Yamauchi Brewmaster Huchu Homare Shuzou

Brand: Watari Bune and Taiheikai, “Pacific Ocean
Brewery: Huchu Homare Brewery
1. Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo “55”
2. Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo
3. Taiheikai Tokubetsu Junmai

Brand: Chikurin, “Bamboo Forest
Brewery: Marumoto Brewery
4. Taoyaka “Elegance” Junmai Daiginjo
5. Kaoyaka “Lightness” Junmai Ginjo
6. Fukamari “Depth” Junmai
7. Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake

Brand: Yuki No Bosha, “Cabin in the Snow
Brewery: Saiya Shuzouten
8. Akita Komachi Daiginjo
9. Daiginjo
10. Junmai Daiginjo
11. Limited Release Junmai Ginjo
12. Junmai Ginjo Nigori

Brand: Shichi Hon Yari, “The Seven Spearsmen
Brewery: Tomita Shuzou
13. Junmai
14. Junmai Ginjo

Brand: Kasumi Tsuru, “The Crane of Kasumi
Brewery: Kasumi Tsuru Ltd
15. Shiboritate Namazake Genshu
16. Kimoto Junmai Ginjo
17. Kimoto Extra Dry
18. Yamahai Ginjo
19. Yamahai Junmai

Yasunobu Tomita, Executive Director Tomita Shuzo, Inc - Shichi Hon YariMy first stand out pick is Shichi Hon Yari. It was fun talking to Tomita-san about his sake. He came back to the the family owned kura after a stint as a corporate employee. His english was great for having only been to the states a few times. He credited listening to english tapes in his car during his commute.

I also learned that his family Kura was founded by Samurai and Tomita-san tapped his samarai spirit to keep the brewery running smoothly and the sake flowing.

Shichi Hon Yari only was showing 2 sakes, one ginjo and one junmai, but they were both gems. The junmai was offered both warmed and chilled and was clearly on of the best Junmais I’ve ever had. It had a beautiful round flavor that struck just the right chord on my palate. The heated Shichi Hon Yari jumai had a honey like quality that was just delicious. smooth and easy. This experience with the Shichi Hon Yari has really made me ‘warm up’ to the idea of drinking heated sake.

Kotaro Saito, President Saiya Sake CompanyIt’s worth noting that all the sakes that were served warm were gently warmed in a water bath, not at all served piping hot. The Ginjo was great and added a step up of flavor complexity from the Junmai.

Next, I really liked the Yuki No Bosha Akita Komachi Daiginjo from Saiya Brewery. This sake was the first one of the evening that I tried. It was smooth with a very silky mouthfeel. This sake is like “cool jazz 101FM” – chill and relaxed without being overtly fruity or floral. A very nice elegant Daiginjo.

My final pick for the evening was Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Namazake Genshu. This sake I have actually tasted before. It won an UrbanSake.com “Golden Masu” award Last Month. It has a strong presence and is perfect when you need something bold and flavorful. This is the sake Chuck Norris would bring with him when he stopped by for dinner. But beware of that karate chop kick! The 20% ALC content on this baby could have you down for the count if you don’t keep your guard up.

Winner takes it all...As these sakes make their way onto the american marketplace, ask for them by name. These are artisenal sakes in the truest sense of the word. The fact that we have access to them here in the states is really a dream.

At the end of the evening, they held a raffle. I never usually win at that kind of thing, so I gave my ticket to Scott. He came back smiling with a bottle of sake in hand. I’d won! And, I’d won my very own bottle of the Golden Masu award winning Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Namazake Genshu! The perfect way to end such a fun evening. I was so excited, I was ready to do my very best Chuck Norris karate Chop Kick. Haaai-ya!

Seishu Kubota HekijyuWhen somebody special to you has a special birthday, you want to do something, well, Special. Scott was turning Yon-Ju years old on June 13, and I wanted to cook up a special treat for him. A special treat for him that somehow involved Sake for me. The perfect plan emerged when I remembered Sugiyama. They serve a Kaiseki style dinner.

Scott and I had always talked about wanting to try a Kaiseki dinner – but he wanted to wait for a special occasion. Well, if your Yon-Ju birthday isn’t a special occassion, I don’t know what is. Kaiseki in this country is almost always a japanese style tasting menu with an emphesis on the freshest, most flavorful ingredients and a stunning presenation of the food over multiple courses. If you’re not having a tea ceremony Kaiseki, they most likely offer Sake to go along with the food.

Sugiyama is an elegant place. The staff was very professional and attentive. I spotted a sake on the menu that I felt would be a sure-fire hit with the birthday boy: Kubota Hekijyu Daiginjo. This is a sake i’ve tasted before, it won an UrbanSake.com “Golden Masu” last month, and I must say it is one of my very, very favorites.

Kubota HekijyuThis Kubota bathes your tongue with it’s clean flavor that I find superbly balanced. It reads clean from nose to finish. There is no hint of strong alcohol or any astringent flavor as well as an avoidance of anything too sweet. The Sake Meter Value on this baby is +3, which is a little north of what should be perfectly balanced between dry and sweet, however, I have read a few places that a +2 or +3 is really more in line with the modern palate of what this perfect balance would be. The Brewmasters at Kubota know what the are doing with this one.

The Kubota Hekijyu was so good with the Kaiseki food, we ordered a second carafe. If it ain’t broke…

I think Scott enjoyed his special day and we were both dazzled by the food, service AND sake at Sugiyama. Note to Self: Have a large bottle of Kubota Hekijyu Daiginjo chilled and ready to help me ease into hitting Yon-Ju… when the time comes of course.

Saké glass at Naka Naka

After reading about the homestyle japanese cooking at the new japanese place Naka Naka (458 W 17th St. New York, NY 10011), Scott concluded we had been working hard and deserved a treat.We made a reservation for early on a saturday night and off we went. Let me start off by saying that the food at naka naka is no joke, however many knock knock puns they may have heard to date.The mood of the place seemed authentically Japanese, best I could tell. waitresses wore kimono and knelt in front of the low table to deliver food and pour sake.

Sake display at Naka Naka

Oddly, the sake menu was quite limited. On the special’s board (who knew japan had these too – just like at applebees!) the listed a special sake that came in a smaller size so I went with that.Its a Junmai ginjo called Tomoju. Scott said the name of that sake sounded familar to him and we quickly realized it was his favorite sake from his flight at Bozu a few nights earlier. Oh goodie – that was a great sake.

Galvanized Ice Bucket

The bottle arrived on ice in a gavanized oblong tub. As we found at Bozu, Tomoju was really really good. This sake is balanced. well balanced. I found a hint of dryness in the finish that was quite delightful. Tomoju offered a perfect counterpoint and stood up to the food we ordered.I was really enjoying the sake but it soon took a back seat – stop the presses – to a major star sighting!

Easy, Breezy, Covergirl!

Our First celeb on UrbanSake.com. Naka Naka. Who’s there? Oscar Winning Actress Susan Sarandon!! She was out with her kids for dinner . It was really quite uneventful, but fun none the less.I did consider telling her how much I loved her Marmie in “Little Women” and her covergirl commercial, but I know what it’s like when fans constantly come up and talk to me, so I left her alone.

Ms. Sarandon was drinking beer, not sake, it should be noted.

Well, the evening was a success, the sake was a hit and Scott and I felt justly rewarded for all our hard work.

Tomoju

If you see Tomoju in the store on on a sake menu, give it a try. Also be sure to try out naka naka! the food and service were great.But please… come prepared with your own knock knock joke.

Naka Naka

Who’s there?

Orange

Orange who?

Orange you glad you drink sake?

This sign means you've found the best sake in williamsburgWhen you’re a Manhattan-loving, Brooklyn-fearing snob like me, it’s not often that you get on the train and head off to Brooklyn for the whole day on purpose. However, I see now that Scott really knows what he’s doing. To entice me to go with him to a Brooklyn event, he promised me dinner -and sake- at Bozu afterwards. I’ve written about Bozu before, (and you can read about that trip here) but this time, it was just me and scott and a quiet evening just for the two of us.

Our Friendly server at BozuOur Bartender last January was this really nice and friendly guy — i’ve never seen anyone before or since pour sake with such self assurance. I mean, he held the bottle pretty far away from the tiny cup and was able to fill it exactly to the rim without spilling a drop.

This time, he wasn’t there, and our nice waitress wasn’t totally spot-on with her recommendations. I asked for advice/ direction from her on flavor profile for some of the sakes on the bozu menu. She said a few times when describing a sake to me that “It’s a sake lovers sake with real sake taste”. Hmmm. I’m not sure what that means, but I think maybe she means a stronger rice-y flavor? Well once we were seated at the bar and I had a chance to scour the sake menu, I found a nama i’d never had and scott went for a special tasting that was being offered.

Bozu Favorites Sake FlightScott’s tasing consisted of:

1) Tomoju Junmai Ginjo, Ibaraki Prefecture
2) Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai, Tottori Prefecture
3) Aoinikko Junmai, Tochigi Prefecture

The first of his sakes, the Tomoju, was the best. This sake rang clear as a bell and had a subtle flavor with just enough complexity to stand on it’s own. It was really well balanced and well, just plain yummy.

Scott’s second sake was the Chiyomusubi. I Enjoyed it, but it had a bit more of a sharp edge and bite. not a bad thing, mind you, but that should be something you’re looking for.

Lastly, Scott sampled the Aoinikko. THis sake disappointed my palate. Scott described it as brine-y. I would say it has a “strong rice flavor”. This sake was, of course drinkable, but not my favorite.

Ohtouka NamazakeI chose a 300 ML bottle of Ohtouka Namzake (Nariwa Ozeki Shuzo Co., ALC 13.5%). This Nama really came through in the clutch. It was just what the dr. ordered for this day. Being hot outside, I was looking for something refreshing, light and summery. This nama was gently perfumed and not too bold with a tinge of sweetness. I appreciated the restraint. it was very drinkable with food. Only drawback was I felt it lacked a little complexity and was just a little too “Maryann Singleton” for my tastes. The food was quite good on this nite and The Ohtouka Nama went well with it! As before, the atmostphere was comfortable and the food and sake were good.

I think I’ll venture “Back to Bozu” next time events lure me to Williamsburg. It’s a refreshing sake oasis in a sea of Brooklyn Lager.

Sachiko's on ClintonFlashback with me to 1980’s New York, won’t you? Picture Breakdancing in Washington square park, Act Up blocking traffic on 5th Ave and absolutely no one checking their email on a cell phone. Now Picture little timmy arriving

Presentation at Sachiko's on Clintonat his NYU Dorm and reviewing some ‘safety guidelines’ in his Freshman Orientation packet. It was something like, “The Lower East Side is a dangerous Drug Den Crack Alley No Fly Zone. Stay Away if you want to live to see your parents on Christmas Break.” Good times!

I couldn’t help but think back to these wonderful college years when I heard the rumblings in the NYC Sake Underground that a new Sake bar/restaurant had opened up on the Lower East Side. “Sachiko’s on Clinton” adds a splash of Nihon-shu to the mix of Bodegas, three star restaurants, nail salons and upscale boutiques to this gentrifing hodge podge stretch of Clinton St. between Housten and Delancy

I made a plan with Sake buddy Rob to meet up at Sachiko’s and give this New Kid on the Block the once over. Sachiko’s was deserted when we arrived around 6pm.

Echigo TsurukameThe Bar area, kinda crammed into the entranceway, was a little cramped and in need of a little leg room.

Rob and I started with a recommendation from Sachiko herself. She said she had a highly recommended nama that just arrived in from Japan the day before and wasn’t on the menu. Where do I sign?! This sake was called Echigo Tsurukame Nama Junmai (SMV +3.0, Niigata Prefecture) We were served with a beautiful tokkuri and cute little serving glass. This was an elegant nama.

I knew right away that Sachiko didn’t steer us wrong. She explained that the turtle and the Crane on the label of the bottle were symbols of long life and that this sake was favored by rulers who lived long ago. makes sense to me! Echigo Tsurukame had a clean taste with a strong melon-fruit flavor and that freshness that Nama is known for. Needless to say, our Tokkuri quickly disappeared.

Without too much of a pause, we picked our next selection off the menu again with Sachiko’s help. Her next recommendation was Sato No Homare “pride of the village” Nama Junmai Ginjo(SMV +3, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sudo Honke Brewery).

Sato No HomareSince June is Pride month, I thought Pride of the Village would be a sure fire hit. Sachiko described this one as a “wine lover’s Sake”.

I would say it’s more of a fruit-bomb lover’s sake. The flavor was sweet – perhaps like a riesling: Peachy, pear-y, candied flavors… let’s just say, fruit salad. I could see how a white wine lover would dig this stuff. This sake definitely had a personality. Towards the bottom of my glass, however, I was thinking I had overdosed on bubbleyum.

When We had slightly recovered from the fruit bomb, I thought we needed to downshift into something more clean and classic and I immediately thought “daiginjo”. Ah… yes. Well, since Sachiko was off helping dinner guests, I made this call on my own and chose the Kagatobi Ai Junmai DaiGinjo (SMV +4, Ishikawa Prefecture) off the menu.

This was the perfect way to wind down our tasting. Kagatobi Ai was noticeably drier that the fruity parade we’d seen march by so far this evening. The taste was even, crisp and sublte. Subtle! Yes, that is the magic of Daiginjo.

Kagatobi AiThe Namas can be a hit-you-over-the-head flavor party, while a junmai daiginjo like this can teach you the joys of an even tempered flavor.

Kind of like enjoying even-keeled (Daiginjo) Emma Thompson as a 19th Century Masterpiece Theater heronie vs. Flamboyant (Nama) Carmen Miranda as the “the lady in the tutti-frutti hat.” Right? Kagatobi Ai was a treat and was a crisp and delicious treat. um, Yum!

So, as I bid farewell to Sachicko and thanked her so much for the tasting suggestions, I couldn’t help but think ahead and start planning my next visit to the lower east side for sake. And this time, I know I’ll make it home alive for Christmas break.